The first Cup Series race at World Wide Technology Raceway delivered some fireworks.
From unintentional (and intentional) incidents to an overtime finish between two stars, Gateway certainly made a good first impression. In the end, Joey Logano staved off Kyle Busch on the final restart to collect his 29th career victory.
Next week, the Cup Series heads to wine country for a battle at Sonoma Raceway, a 12-turn road course in Northern California. Four of the next 10 races this season will be held on road courses as the schedule continues to toughen up.
So, who is the driver to beat through 15 weeks? Here’s our power rankings with 11 races to go before the playoffs:
1. Kyle Busch
Last week: 4
It wasn’t a win, as Busch had to settle for second, but Busch is hotter than anyone in the field right now. He has eight top-10s in his last nine starts, including finishes of third, second and second over the last three. Busch has climbed to second in the standings, just nine points behind Chase Elliott, and he’s won twice at Sonoma.
2. Ross Chastain
Last week: 1
Chastain was a mess at Gateway, wrecking Elliott and Denny Hamlin before finishing eighth. He owned up to his mistakes after the race, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s made two powerful enemies.
The Melon Man is now third in the standings heading to Sonoma, and he’s no stranger to success on road courses after winning at Circuit of the Americas in March.
3. Kyle Larson
Last week: 3
Hendrick Motorsports as a group was off the pace at Gateway, including Larson. He finished 12th and was largely out of contention throughout the day. It ended up being a solid points day after strategy earned him seven stage points. After winning at Sonoma last June, the California native should be itching to get back to his home track.
4. Chase Elliott
Last week: 2
Elliott appeared to be the quickest of the Hendrick cars before pit road problems, followed by Chastain problems. He never recovered after Chastain spun him, finishing 21st. Elliott has finished outside the top-20 in three straight races and his points lead has essentially been erased.
5. Ryan Blaney
Last week: 6
Blaney recovered from an early flat tire to finish fourth, pushing his teammate to the win in overtime. Still the highest-ranked winless driver, Blaney is 102 points above the playoff cut line and he shouldn’t be worried about missing the postseason. But if he wants to compete for a championship this fall, it’s time to start stacking wins and more playoff points.
6. Joey Logano
Last week: 9
Here are Logano’s last six finishes dating back to Talladega: 32nd, 29th, first, 17th, 20th, first. He’s been the definition of boom or bust over the past few months, but wins are the only thing that matters in this playoff format. Logano has earned the fourth-most playoff points this season and is positioning himself well for a run at his second championship.
7. Christopher Bell
Last week: 7
Ninth place at Gateway represented Bell’s worst finish in his last five starts – that’s how consistent he’s been lately. The 27-year-old Bell is firmly in position to make the playoffs again this year, sitting 57 points above the cut line. His only career win came on the road course at Daytona, but he was 24th at Sonoma last year.
8. Martin Truex Jr.
Last week: first four out
Truex’s solid, unspectacular season continued with a 12th-place run on Sunday. He did lead 42 laps, which was his second-highest total in a race this year. Still searching for a victory in 2022, Sonoma could be the spot for MTJ. He has three wins at the track, with victories in 2013, 2018 and 2019.
9. William Byron
Last week: 5
Since winning his second race of the year at Martinsville, Byron has completely fallen off a cliff. He has seven straight finishes outside the top-10, including 19th at Gateway. Byron has dropped all the way to ninth in the standings after reaching second earlier in the year. This team is desperate for a good, complete run.
10. Alex Bowman
Last week: 8
Bowman has 12 top-15s in his last 13 races after running 13th on Sunday. That’s impressive consistency. But in 12 races since his win at Las Vegas, Bowman has led just two laps. He hasn’t challenged for wins, clearly showing less speed than his Hendrick teammates. Maybe a road course – where Bowman finished ninth last year – will give him a boost.
First four out: Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola